The one-story houses were painted aqua, violet, orange, pistachio.
I spoke to the taxi driver in broken Spanish.
I was becoming a priest, I told him, God willing—Soy un sacerdote
(the tense wrong, the article unnecessary, the r rolled too strong)—
as we drove over ruts, pot holes, and alongside hungry dogs.
Much of the taxi’s interior had been removed.
Time slowed that summer in San Pedro Sula.
Around the rotary, legless men shook their tambourines,
epileptics convulsed, and the blind tapped their sticks
through donkey excrement. Blue mountains and fields of banana trees
shadowed the city’s edges. There were the many poor
on the grassless riverbank assembling houses out of rubbish.
I had come to work in the orphanage in Villa Florencia.
Inside the ten-foot wall with barbed wire, behind the metal gate,
guards fingered their pistols like Bibles,
and seventy orphaned girls politely greeted strident Christians.
One girl had been found on a coconut truck.
She had lived on coconut juice since birth,
had trouble speaking, preferred not to be held.
Two sisters had been left at a street corner on a sheet of cardboard;
their mother told them to wait, then never came back.
It was a landscape both porous and uninviting.
Halfway up one mountain was an enormous white Coca-Cola sign.
Rain steadily fell against the tin roofs and colored the chapel windows to plum.
Sweat stained my T-shirt the color of a steeped tea bag.
The more I spoke to the girls the more insistent they became,
making fun of my accent, saying in English: “What’s my name? Say my name.”
At night, grease shone on my cheeks, lit by the Coca-Cola sign.
The clock on the nightstand was a face I could not reach.
A world widened in me. But what of my Protestant professors
rearranging furniture in their well-appointed heads,
talking of Hooker and Baxter, hunched in their sepia-colored libraries?
In the dark of my room, I pondered them.
Was it true, what they said, that a priest is a house lit up?
The intellectual fads we generate here are usually cranky objections to the fact that the Bible is not agreeable in every detail to our wildly untypical lives — that it is sometimes better suited to the experience of the many hundred generations who have lived and died before us.Marilynne Robinson (via David Mills)
Swords into plowshares, literally
Given the state of world affairs, I can’t think of anything more appropriate to post than my favorite photo from our recent road trip. During the trip, we stopped by the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, the site of some of the US Civil War’s fiercest fighting and a turning point in the war.
The battles played out not just over days or weeks, but over months, as Union and Confederate forces traded losses (yes, that seems the right way to put it) in an effort to control Chattanooga, “The Gateway to the Deep South,” a city of strategic importance because of the convergence of railroads and waterways.
Two decisive battles, one at the Chickamauga Battlefield Site and one at the Lookout Mountain Battlefield Site, bracketed a months-long siege of Union troops that had retreated to the city after losing in their initial confrontations with Confederate troops. The town was apparently decimated by the siege, during which the Union forces eventually resorted to dismantling homes to use their lumber for firewood.
Sometime after the fighting was over, a woman found a bayonet in a field, and someone in the Roark family “bent and flattened” the blade to make it into a sugar cane knife, which you can see in the photo. The Roark family beat this “sword” into a “plowshare.” As we consider the unrest and violence around the world, this is a symbol of what we hope for. Let us pray for the day when, like the Roark family, we can beat our swords into plowshares.
But, second, it also seems to me there’s an opposite danger that, in our effort to articulate and defend the existence of something like “close, non-sexual friendships between men” in past eras, we may overlook the importance of homosexual feelings in shaping those friendships. Yes, of course, “homosexuality” as we know it didn’t exist as a social construct until relatively recently, but that doesn’t mean the reality of persistent, predominant same-sex sexual desire didn’t exist and that it didn’t have a friendship-deepening effect for those who experienced it. Sure, Bonhoeffer wasn’t “gay” in our post-Stonewall sense. But what Marsh’s biography tries to explore is whether Bonhoeffer may have experienced same-sex attractions and how those attractions may have led him to look for ways to love his friend Bethge. Bonhoeffer evidently didn’t—and maybe didn’t even want to—have sex with Bethge (and presumably Bethge himself wouldn’t have consented anyway). But did Bonhoeffer’s romantic feelings for his friend, if indeed they existed (as Marsh believes they did), lead him into a pursuit of emotional and spiritual intimacy with Bethge that he wouldn’t otherwise have sought? I think there’s a danger in avoiding that question, too, even as there’s a danger in jumping to the conclusion “Bonhoeffer was gay.”One More Post on the “Gay” Bonhoeffer. Written by me, reflecting on a recent interview Charles Marsh gave about his Bonhoeffer biography.
But the biggest cultural critique offered by celibate gay Christian lives isn’t about sex but about love. We offer witness that friendship, “chosen family,” intentional community life, and service to those in need are forms of real and sacrificial love which can shape a life as decisively as marriage and parenthood—if we let them. We offer hope that one day our churches and our communities will honor devoted friendship, extended family such as godparents, and lives of service. These are forms of love the Christian churches once honored publicly as part of the structure of society. Instead of maintaining this honor, we narrowed the public, “adult” forms of love down to the nuclear family and eventually the postnuclear family. I hope that by exploring our vocations, celibate gay Christians can suggest that there is more than one way to make a life filled with love. This witness will, of course, be relevant not only to our small subgroup, but to all Christians, regardless of sexual orientation or beliefs about sexuality.Eve Tushnet, “Why Celibacy Isn’t the Point”
Clay Risen, “Whiskey: The Analog Drink”
Then, during the summer after my sophomore year in college, I was back home with very little to do besides play golf with my grandfather. One day we were having lunch at his house, and he offered me a drink of bourbon. There is a myth that all Southern gentlemen are connoisseurs of fine barbecue and whiskey. To know Poppy was to know that this was not in any way true. A slightly paunchy man with big ears and a broad smile from Greenwood, Mississippi, my grandfather had a lifelong love of 1950s bachelor food—pear and mayonnaise salad, Spam—and a closet full of half-empty bottles of whatever had been on sale one day at Frugal MacDougal’s liquor mart. None were good enough to finish, so they built up like sediment in a prehistoric lake. But recently he had taken a shine to a whiskey called Blanton’s, a pricy “single-barrel” bourbon that came in a ball-shaped bottle with a metal racehorse on the stopper, looking for all the world like the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It cost him a bit more than Jack Daniel’s or Jim Beam, but, he said as he poured me a finger, he liked it.
I loved it. Blanton’s, which is made by Buffalo Trace in Frankfort, Kentucky, was and is a fantastic drink, approachable and enjoyable but still complex. I had never had anything like it, and it threw open windows, not just onto the world of good whiskey but onto the very existence of gradations of food and drink, onto the fact that there were burgers that tasted nothing at all like those at McDonald’s, that not all coffee comes from a can. In these days of foodie culture, we take such notions for granted. But for me, in suburban Tennessee in 1996, it was a revelation.
The Japanese are lucky in that they start from the place of believing that teaching is a craft. They already had a way for teachers to have time to learn, and they have the space to learn from each other. In their lesson study system, they not only do demonstration lessons of best practices, but they pose questions: Is 13 minus 9 really the best problem to teach subtraction with borrowing? Let’s try another problem.
They have the teaching equivalent of Iron Chef. One teacher will teach the same concept one way, and another teacher will teach it a different way. And they’ll have a discussion of what was good and what was bad, and you can see in these discussions why that system is so important. Teachers are learning about all the different things they need to know, all at once in this one experience in this really condensed way.
They’re learning about how children make sense of the problems they’re given, what children are likely to misunderstand. They also learn what techniques are useful to let children track the flow of ideas. They have an entire art of how to write on the blackboard that’s like nothing I’ve ever seen.
Aaron Taylor, “Can One Be Gay and Christian?” I had occasion today to revisit this essay by my friend, and I wanted to post it here again as a way of saying that I still find it to be one of the wisest, sanest, godliest things I’ve read on the topic. It sums up the approach a lot of us are trying to take over at SpiritualFriendship.org. Thanks again, Aaron, for writing this piece.
So can one be gay and Christian or not? Our culture presents us with two simple options. Either we lie down and allow ourselves to be bulldozed by the agenda of militant gay activists, or we completely reject and demonize every aspect of gay identity, culture, and experience. Christians ought to eschew both options. Instead, we should identify which aspects of being gay contribute to the flourishing of gay people as individuals and to the flourishing of their communities. We should also identify without fear those aspects of contemporary gay identity and culture that are incompatible with the Christian moral life.
Most importantly, we ought to show how those aspects of being gay that do contribute to human flourishing would be enhanced, rather than diminished, by embracing the Church’s message of chastity. In other words, chastity is not a demand that gay people give up happiness now in the hope of pie in the sky when they die. Quite the opposite: Gays and lesbians can most truly be the people that God created them to be precisely by following Jesus. The message they hear from the Church should never be “hate your own sexuality or burn in hell,” but “Jesus has a gift of abundant life to give which will make you happier in the next world and in this life if you follow the path he sets out.”
D. Stephen Long, “My church loyalties: Why I am not yet a Catholic”
Of course, many Protestant conversions to Catholicism are themselves protestant conversions. On one occasion when I was tempted to convert to Catholicism, I did so because I was angry at the silliness of activities like puppet-and-clown Eucharists. A friend and pastor asked me to wait one year to make sure that I was not converting because of what I was protesting against. Wouldn’t such a conversion be one more act of protest? It was good Ignatian counsel. I waited the year and then went through spiritual direction with a Jesuit to discern whether I should convert. He did not think I was ready.
How thorough is a Protestant conversion to Catholicism if the convert harbors an animus toward Protestantism that violates Roman Catholic teaching? In my 2005 essay I quoted the Catholic catechism to remind Protestants that the Roman Catholic Church does not consider Protestants to be heretics, apostates, or non-Christians: “I would not deny that Protestants already share to an extent in the Catholic unity. In fact, this is the official teaching of the Catholic Church itself. Its catechism states that ‘one cannot charge with the sin of separation those who at present are born into these communities [that resulted from separation] and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ, and the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers.’ Those of us who came to love God through these separated communions are correct to declare our faith in the ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.’” So even on Catholic grounds, I am not considered as a Protestant to be protesting against the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.
Lillian is a tonic. She understands, for instance, that the phenomenal popularity of “Celtic” services being held for all comers, with open communion for the unbaptized, is not going to strengthen the faltering churches. Her voice is valuable and much needed. She does not, however, seem particularly interested in The Great Tradition (aka generous orthodoxy) of the church, but rather, in what the church asks of its people — and more power to her on that. Doctrine, however, still lies at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. As soon as one becomes unmoored from the Great Tradition of biblical interpretation and Christian doctrine, there are unnumbered, treacherous currents, tides, and rocks to get lost in or run aground on. Moving away from the church (with all its all-too-obvious defects) means exchanging one flawed organism for another — oneself. Pelagius was a Christian, a very serious one, but the teaching that Augustine was dead set against was his tendency to substitute human agency for divine agency.
In the end, it’s about God. Who is God, and what difference does that make? There are a number of dangers in the Pelagian route, but perhaps the primary route out of biblical faith is the redefining of the identity and nature of God. It is simply tragic that the issue defining the various parties in the church today is same-sex unions. The passions surrounding this debate have almost entirely obscured the all-important questions of Christology and the role of Scripture in an age when an unprecedented number of books and media messages are bent on undermining the church’s ancient confession that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Lillian Daniel, “You can’t make this up: The limits of self-made religion”. Read the rest!
Suffering in these self-made spiritualities is something we can overcome by hard work, exercise and reading the op-ed page. But worldwide disaster—how do you wrestle with that?
Here’s how one man wrestled with it. Realizing that his pastor was desperately in need of reeducation, he explained how his own son had bowled him over with a great insight. He said: “Listen to what my son wrote: ‘Children are starving with empty bellies in faraway lands. They have nothing to eat. All around them they hear the sounds of gunfire and bombs going off. And it made me realize that we are so lucky. We are so lucky to be living here and not there.’”
"I had tears in my eyes when he said that," the parent went on to say. "I was blown away and I realized that he gets it, he really gets it. It was gratitude. That’s our religion—gratitude. And at that moment, when he recognized all that suffering and how fortunate he was, I could not have been prouder."
Never been prouder? Really? I can see being proud that your kid watches the news and understands that he has privileges many other people do not. I can see being a little relieved that he knows that not everyone goes to bed with a full stomach and that he can at least imagine the fact that war causes enormous pain. But the punch line of this religion of gratitude is this: “We’re so lucky that we live here instead of there.” Really? That’s it?
What’s missing from that worldview—and this is no fault of the teenager—is something you might get in a Christian community, a perspective that would take you from feeling lucky for not being hungry to actually doing something to feed a hungry person. This dad was happy to stop with the self-made religion of gratitude, like a person who fills up on the deep-fried appetizers and doesn’t order anything else from the menu. He may not feel hungry for dinner now, but that snack will not sustain him.
The Tablet - News (via David Mills)
Stratford Caldecott, Catholic author and publisher, who died last week, is to be buried alongside his literary hero, J.R.R. Tolkien.
Earlier this month, before his family met the undertaker, the relative of someone buried in Oxford’s Wolvercote Cemetery allegedly attacked a tree on the edge of the Tolkien plot because it encroached on their land. The tree was uprooted, leaving behind a vacant double plot in an oversubscribed cemetery.
Tolkien’s writing inspired Caldecott’s conversion to Christianity.
This is my commonplace book and sometime-journal.
I blog at SpiritualFriendship.org.
My book is here: Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality.
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